RL288 - Mustache President

This week, Merlin and John talk about

The problem: We gotta take your fingernails, referring to CIA agents doing ground work and getting their fingernails taken when they do something wrong. It is the cost of doing business.

The show title is referring to a certain era in the 19th century when the presidents had mustaches.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Being special about food (RL288)

Merlin had a half Boar’s Head Pepperoni and nothing else for breakfast, which John finds the best breakfast ever. Merlin doesn’t like making pans, because it makes him feels like some kind of Appalachian caricature. If he only has one pan to clean, he feels like he has really scored. Last time he made breakfast for lunch he did Hash-browns, ham and eggs all in the same pan, like a prospector. Hodgeman loves to make Toad in the hole. Anytime you go to his house at any time of the day, he will ask you if you want a toad in the hole. Some people call it Eggy in a Bready. Merlin loves to take a shot glass, knock out the middle of a bread and toast it with so much butter. They didn’t eat toads in holes where John came from. Alaska doesn’t have toads, first of all. You would call it a marmoset in a Chevy Vega. Hodgeman takes a piece of nice bread, takes the center out with a cup, tons of butter in a cast-iron pan, cracks an egg in it, and maybe he will even put some cheese on there.

John was at his friend Cal’s house together with another friend. He had written Cal in advance that his other friend is a vegetarian, because Cal is just looking for an excuse to make something special for him. For some people it is an improv opportunity to be a great host and it is not necessarily an inconvenience. Whatever your normal thing is, like being a vegetarian, not eating olives or not eating potatoes, there is this thin line between telling people in a shitty and entitled way, or saying it is fine and sitting there chewing on a tooth pick because nobody knew that you needed other food. There is this place in the middle where you tell people about it, but let them know you are fine either way. Merlin had a real change of heart about this over the years as he becomes slightly more aware of how people are different and have their needs. They aren’t all privileged Merlin! We used to think of those things as inconvenient accommodations for weirdos, like if you were the one kid that couldn't have peanuts. It is like designing a website: Accessibility is good for everybody.

John is very clear to service staff that he doesn’t want any potatoes on the plate or he will send it back. He doesn’t want it on the side and if they could prepare it in a non-potato kitchen, he would be fine with that. In most restaurants, the first thing they do when they are plating something is to shove potatoes onto plates. One half of the plate should always have potatoes on it because they are the cheapest garbage food you can buy. We soak it in grease and cover it with salt and people think it is food and pay money for it. John doesn’t want potatoes, and he doesn’t even want to see a potato. It is not a problem, he will pay extra, they will write it down and say ”Sure!”, but 25% of the time there will be potatoes on the plate, because they shovel it on there without thinking. John will then just ask them for an extra plate and put the potatoes on it. When Merlin had breakfast with John last time, he handled it very gracefully and said ”I said I don’t want potatoes with this, could you please take this back and bring me a plate that does not have potatoes on it”, but that was probably a cause when the potatoes were intrusive and they couldn’t be extricated. Let’s shoot the moon and go one more time!

People shouldn’t make a face about it if you have the temerity to ask about something that isn’t automatic, but also: Don’t abuse it! We all encounter people who abuse it, but we shouldn't systematize the assumption that people are going to abuse it, which has gotten popular in America lately. We should rather systematize the assumption that people are being honest about what they need. We should not presume that everybody is trying to work some scam on us. Merlin listened to a podcast talking about Subway-hacks, where people would make the life of the servers hell in order to get slightly more of what they consider valuable out of Subway. There is a whole culture of how to get more stuff for free, especially from businesses and restaurant.

Millennial Girlfriend and her submissive sub-culture (RL288)

One time John drove from the Sacramento airport up to a town in Northern California because someone on the Black List who lived in Red Bluff, California had repaired his GMC RV and John has about to retrieve it. He landed in Sacramento and had his Millennial Girlfriend pick him up. She had rented an SUV, John got in the back seat and as they were driving he said ”I would like you to obey all posted traffic signs to the letter while I ride in the back and explain how roads work” and it was exceedingly difficult because this off-ramp was 30 mph (50 km/h) and even though they weren’t going 80 (130 km/h) because the posted speed limit was 65 (100 km/h), which was hard enough, they needed to slow down to 30. Speed limits on the highway go up and down all the time and if you are following those sign, driving feels insane. All these people going up and down I75 in Florida know where the speed traps are. The speed limit is 65, but right outside of town it suddenly drops to 40 and nobody catches that sign.

John's millennial girlfriend is from San Francisco, which is a little bit of an edgy town with a dangerous scene where they are all walking around with their flick knives dancing in rows, and everybody got handcuffs for a belt. An element of their relationship, introduced by her early on, was that she perceived John to be a dominant male, and within her particular subculture it is understood that John is large and in charge, while she was diminutive, but a powerhouse in words with a strong personality. She is not a shrinking violet, as Merlin’s grandmother used to say, but she had a very small shoe size and she is a small person. She is a lawyer in her day and she needed to be in charge during work hours, but after work she wanted to assume a more submissive posture. John was being introduced to this subculture and in some ways he felt seen for the first time. He understood that he is a certain type within this subculture, a fetish item even, and if you can find a person like John with all of his qualities, it is very exciting! John was the total package!

As a component of this, John was always trying to invent some situation where this dynamic could be put into play. It is not natural for him because he is a Northwestern guy and his typical way to go about things is ”Is everybody cool?” and this was much more like ”Here is how I want it!” There is the person who wants things to go his way, and here is the person who wants to serve. This was an instance where John wasn’t going to drive nor sit in the passenger seat, but he was going to sit in the back and tell her to obey all posted signs! Most people don’t think about driving, because they learned it at some point when somebody haphazardly taught them to drive, and then they are off to the races. No-one ever thoughtfully explains how roads work. No-one had ever explained to her that when a highway turns, there is a constant radius, because somebody takes a protractor out and draws a curve on a piece of paper with the idea that you set your steering wheel into the curve and you should be able to just hold that turn.

She would take these big sweeping curves and she would be: Turn. Turn. Turn. Eventually John understood that she needed a little bit of training, for the lack of a better word, about how to go into a curve, set a constant turn and follow through on that, keeping her speed up. There is all this technique about it! It was revelatory to her and it had never occurred to her that that was how it worked. It was a very interesting night, they both learned a lot, and it was an eye-opener to John because until he conceived of this adventure on the fly, he had never driven a long stretch of road obeying all the signs. He had no idea how many signs there were. Especially if you are driving 65 mph (100 km/h) on a highway where everybody else is going 90 (150 km/h), you need to be out of their way and not create a hazard. If you are coming up to a truck going 60 mph and all the other cars are going 90 in the other lane, it becomes a math problem. You don’t want to go too close to the truck before you go around it, but you also don’t want to merge out into the left lane and some guy going 90 has to slam on his brakes. There is a lot of timing you have to think about if you are also following the signs.

John getting a speeding ticket (RL288)

John got a speeding ticket from a remote camera because he went 27 mph (45 km/h) in a 20 (30 km/h) zone on a big 4-lane divided road. It is a school zone and John knows the neighborhood well because his daughter goes to the very school. He was going to pick her up at school and he was late enough that he was going a whole 27 mph. He was mad about it, because while speed cameras are a thing they had to deal with in Europe all the time, they are un-American. Put a cop out there! It is part of the interaction that we have with our authority system. ”Cop pulls you over, I was scared as hell, I don’t have a license, but I drive very well, officer. I almost had a heart attack that day” Of course he socially mediated this experience and got a ton of replies, saying ”Oh, you don’t have to pay those. All you have to do is claim someone else is driving the car, or swear an affidavit that you are a member of a religious community that doesn’t obey posted speed limits”, all these life hacks. A lot of people said that the speed camera companies are contracted by the city and have no actual enforcement ability, meaning if you don’t pay the ticket, they might pester you, but they can’t really do anything about it.

People wanted John to swear on an affidavit that he was not doing a thing that he was doing, which he will not do! He will ignore a ticket by a company that doesn’t have authority over him, but he is not going to lie, because he was going 27 in a 20 and he doesn’t believe in cheating on his taxes. He could write a letter saying that this was ludicrous because he was only going 27 mph and if there had been an officer posted there, he would not have pulled him over, because he would have been conserving his energy to pull somebody over who was going 40 in a 20. That is the way of the world! You presume that if you are going less than 10 mph over a speed limit, you will be fine, because it is not worth a cop’s while, except if you are also driving with the headlight out. In a lot of places in the United States, if you are two black people in a car you will get pulled over for anything. In John’s case, he would not see rollers in his rear view mirror because the police officer would say that there are bigger fish to fry. Now you got this speed camera that can ding everybody who is a mile over the speed limit which is unjust! It is an example of AI being used inappropriately by municipality and John protests, but he won’t say he wasn’t doing it.

Secret menus (RL288)

John went into a Subway once and was joking with the guy behind the counter, who was probably the manager, and he offered John that if he knows what BMT stands for, he would get the sandwich for free. John just couldn’t do it and he learned that BMT means ”Brooklyn Manhattan Tunnel”, because the company is called Subway. Merlin says that today it is called ”Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest”, which in that case is a retronym. It was like ”This can’t be yoghurt” and then they turned it into ”This country’s best yoghurt!”. Kentucky Friend Chicken became KFC and then they retro-conned it to Kitchen-fresh chicken, which is a thing people will say because they are normal.

If you go into a Subway and say ”Hey pal, I’m being nice, you are just a kid, we are both here at 2:30am and my friend Merlin is ordering 6 sandwiches because he wants us to try every one, you want to throw an extra meatball in there, just because we are cool cats?” - ”Extra meat for a dollar!” - ”You want a Long Winters CD? I got one in the trunk!”, that is one thing, but hacking some system, rolling up in there with a KFC bucket and fill it up with Fanta, because you guys don’t have a policy against it, that just feels wrong. Hack every system you can, but don’t be a dingeling just because you can! It is how our congress is doing right now or how our presidency has been diminished: It turns out we never actually wrote down anywhere that the president shouldn’t have a stripper pole in the oval office and so apparently it is fine, while the rest of us are like ”Didn’t we write that down? I guess we should have written that down!” Don’t live like that! Obey the spirit of the law. John did pay the ticket, because he ends up being just one voice crying out among millions of souls all crying out at once and being extinguished. Somewhere there is an Obiwan Kenobi who had to sit down and look off into space, just for a second.

Merlin is exploring the world of secret menus (on hackthemenu.com) and it is bad news. A lot of it is just really stupid stuff. There is the land, sea and air burger, which is a Big Mac, a filet of fish and a McChicken and you put them all together into one sandwich yourself. There is the Mac 10:45, which is an Egg McMuffin with extra double burger patties. At Subway you can for example order an old cut. They used to cut a divot out of the top of the little miniature loaf of bread, rough in all the parts and put that little hat back on, while now they just cut it in half. They stopped doing that 10 years ago, but you might be able to find somebody who will cut your sub the old way. On the Arby’s page you can get a French Dip Max, which is a regular French Dip sandwich with twice the meat and Swiss. Most of these are just ordering two things which is no secret and John has been doing that for 35 years. There is the McGangBang, which is a McDouble and a McChicken and then the McChicken is placed directly inside the McDouble. It is like a painful Turducken! They continue to talk about secret menus in Fast Food restaurants. Whenever John has a Raider (?), he always says that it is not necessary to put Mountain Dew on it, but if they do, it should be regular Green Mountain Dew, no red, no extreme, no teen youth bible mountain dew, no lemon lime, but green! John just wants things to be the same! He wants Larry Bird and Magic Johnson going head to head. That doesn’t make him an old, but it is just how it should be.

Merlin’s daughter is trying out different things right now and sometimes just wants things to be different. Last night she wanted pizza with no cheese, and she seemed to like it.

John wearing a deerstalker hat (RL288)

When John was in 6th grade he decided to wear a deerstalker hat. People told him to ”Go investigate someone else, Sherlock Holmes!” and he slunk out of there. It was the same when he decided that Jethro Tull was going to be his band, which lasted about 8 hours (try to find that story!!!)

Merlin's playlists and posting YouTube videos more than once (RL288)

Merlin sometimes makes playlists for this show that can be found at http://merlinm.com/merlins-playlists/

John sometimes posts YouTube videos, like last night he posted a video of Frida from ABBA doing her early 1980s hit produced by Phil Collins. Then he realized that he had posted that before although it is a thing you should only post once. Merlin struggles with that, but there are YouTube videos he posts more than once. The video of The Who doing a quick one at the Rolling Stones Rock’n’Roll circus should be posted every 6 months. The same is true for almost any of the versions of ”And I’m telling you (I’m not going)” by any of the great performers. You think you work hard for a living? Try being Jennifer Hudson! The video of Sunday Candy by Chance the Rapper is a delight because it is presented as a little musical.

There is a video of Don Rickles on the Carson Show in 1972, when Don congratulates Carson to his 12th year on the Tonight Show. It was the original version of both of these guys. They were still smoking and at one point Rickles says that they were about the same age, he was 46 and Carson was 47 and John was like ”Oh no!” People used to look older! John collects old yearbooks, as you do, and if you look at a High School yearbook from 1925, they all look like the insurance agent John has been going to for 30 years. They all look 60, and it is not just their haircuts and their clothes, but also their faces. Maybe they started butchering chickens when they were 10 years old and they have seen a lot of death, but also it is their physiognomies. Even in the early 1960s people looked old.

It might be intermixing: even if your parents and grandparents never married or never had children outside of their race, communities had become more diasporan by the 1960s. If you were English and married someone from Scotland, that would have been something rare until America in the 20th century and even if you moved to America, you were still in a community of Scottish people. That little bit of intermixing in the 20th century might have been enough genetic diversification to make us suddenly look younger, plumber and taller. Finally our genes had somewhere to express themselves! That is John’s theory about it. Merlin thinks that white people look old faster. With a lot of Asian and African American ladies you can’t tell how old they are, because they just look good. Black Don’t Crack is what they used to say, which was their way of explaining why there were so many 80-year old black guys who looked young and totally great. It is a melanin issue, the pinker your skin, the more vulnerable it is to attack from everything, in particular if you were sitting around smoking and eating Cheetos.

Wallgreens (RL288)

They are selling fans in the seasonal isles at Merlin's Walgreens past Valentines Day and past Easter. Now it is just fun and sun on the beach! It is 48 degrees outside (9°C) and it is all sun-tan lotion, umbrellas and fans. Nobody just laughs at that and thinks it is funny, but that is what is wrong with the electoral college in some ways. They are stocking fans for states that don’t need fans. In the San Francisco Bay area it is cold in the summer time and you would be better off having sweat shirts in the seasonal isle. In Seattle they have a style of architecture that they like to call the Walgreens architecture, because it is an abomination, but since they owned the land, they were going to build their store in their style. Seattle didn’t let them do that on one particular corner in the center of town where they were trying to perform this density magic on, and the citizens rose up. Walgreens ended up building a 5-story apartment building over their Walgreens and somebody at their corporate office surely still wakes up in the middle of the night, shuttering that they didn’t get to build their Walgreens.

Presidents in the era before the civil war (RL288)

Merlin is looking at pictures of presidents from the 19th century, like Zachary Tailor and he finds it weird that he hardly ever comes up in conversation. What a weird run: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan. It is a rogue’s gallery from 1841-1861 and Merlin doesn’t know about any of these presidents at all. Pre-Civil War this was an era when the whole dynamic of the United States was between the Northern States that were for the most part abolitionist. They were against slavery and certainly against the expansion of slavery and they were fighting about this from the founding of the union. The Southern States had this very patrician mentality and were very prominent in the congress. The pro-slavery side was standing athwart any attempt to abolish it. All the expansion that was happening was in that context of ”Well, this territory wants to become a state and they are down in the Southern part, so we are going to call them a slave state”, and then they had to admit a new state in the North Part. They were all compromised by Mexico and Texas and that whole business. Then California came in and in 1849 they discovered gold in Sutter’s Mill where Merlin lives for 19 years.

John always thinks of that period of US Presidents as the facial hair years, starting with Lincoln who was the first one with a beard, and up to McKinley. From then on and all the way to Taft were the Mustache years. John thinks that we should have some women for a while now, but then we should go back to a guy with a Mustache. In the 1970s there was a governor in the State of Alaska named Jay Hammond with a big beard. He looked like Grizzly Adams and he was a governor of the state who wore flannel shirts, he was a soft-spoken, mellow, groovy guy, a Republican, and he was very much in keeping with Alaska. If you ask Alaskans now to rate all the governors, Jay Hammond is always the favorite governor, even though he presided over a period of Alaska where his governorship was like ”Yeah, sure!” He was the ”Yeah, sure!”-governor. If you want to start up a bulldozer and put the blade down and keep going in that direction until you have made a road, sure, that’s fine! He was a very handsome man in a style that you just don’t see anymore in public life. He was what all Alaska governors should look like, but there aren’t governors like that anymore.

John doesn’t need an over-trimmed beard or mustache, but it needs to be full. He doesn’t want any of those Dave Navarro beards who was drawing it in with a Sharpie. The mustache can’t be sleazy, but it has got to have authority! John is trying it all the time with his mustache. Where do you draw the line? He doesn’t want to have it in his food, but you also want to communicate that you can read a map. Merlin and John continue to talk about growing a beard. A John Waters might be a little bit too trim, but Clark Gable pulled that off for decades, but you couldn’t get away with that as a president today. The millenniums have embraced the beard so strongly that by the time we will have a millennium president, he will have a Macklemore haircut and a nice glorious beard. We will be back to trusting beards again.

John as the director of the CIA (RL288)

John realized that he is not going to be president, because he doesn’t like to run for office, and liking running for office is a key component in ending up being the president. John consults the tea leaves and they continue to say ”Do not think about it!” There is currently a lot of hullabaloo about the city council in Seattle being out of touch and people are sidling up to John at parties, elbowing him in the ribs and ”Hey, what do you think about it?”, but ”Leave me out of it!” Particularly with the Trump Administration, John feels like he is in the running for director of CIA. Trump has gone through a lot of people and John has to be on that list somewhere. He is getting closer and closer all the time! He would be so good at this job and he would bring a beard to it! He would respect the institutional culture of the place while also implementing some reforms.

The CIA has gone afield of its initial premise. It needs to get spookier, less dependent on technology and more boots on the ground. John would like to see a lot more agents out in the field learning other languages, writing in invisible ink, cars that emit smoke screens, and license plates that flip around. You don’t need a lot of satellites! There ought to be ejector seats and there ought to be machine guns behind the headlights. Put people out in the field! More operatives, less listening into phone-calls! Every once in a while we should buy a Lamborghini for a Saudi prince in order to get a phone number and there should be people riding around on Scooters in Bangalore. You don’t want waterboarding, because it doesn’t work.

What you need are informants, you need your Huggy Bears who you talk to all the time. Every once in a while someone is going to get their fingernails pulled out with pliers, but that is not to get information, but to say that ”Hey, you did the wrong thing and we need to take your fingernails!” It is cost of doing business. We should have 600 people out there with 4 or 5 passports in a safe deposit box somewhere and that is not even counting (George) Smiley. Those guys who just walk around in trench coats and think hard about stuff. That is what we need! We need thinkers! We need Roy Scheiders, some of them ought to smoke a pipe, and we should be recruiting book sellers who make frequent trips to Russia. It just feels like normal stuff. The problem is that the Millennials will just have computers! They will be SnapChatting, but that is not where it is happening.

Inevitable things did not happen, the future of democracy (RL288)

We forget that of lot of the things we used to think of as inevitable weren’t inevitable. We thought that we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust and given the temperature of the world it wasn’t conceivable that we wouldn’t. Something had to go wrong, but it didn’t. We thought there would be flying cars and there would be all those things we thought of as inevitable, but they ended up not being. When John looks at his kid, he thinks it will be inevitable that they are going to live in this world of Augmented Reality, they are going to be completely tied to the Internet, they are going to be these weird robotic people who are going to sit and have Internet sex while wearing a PVC body suit, and they will think they are going to be flying over Iceland. Why does John even bother keeping his kid away from YouTube videos? She might as well learn about Scheisse-Porn now! In fact it is not inevitable! John talks to young people all the time because he is out in the world and he is in the Rock business. Young people come to him for council all the time. There is nothing inevitable about it, but we might just suddenly turn against the internet, say that this isn’t working and there is another way to do this where we can get the good parts without being mired in this shit-show. John does believe it is possible!

Merlin believes that people his age and older will continue to die and continue to stop having undue influence. The problem are people over 40. John disagrees! The Baby Boomers definitely had a lot of bad influence and part of what makes the Millennials bad for John is that they adopted a lot of bad things from their parents who were Baby Boomers. People in their 40s, 50s and 60s do have a lot to offer to the world in terms of experience and John does not believe that High School kids should be spearheading the movement for gun control. It is lovely that they do, but John’s generation should be doing that and they have failed it. John doesn’t trust any 46-year old who wants to turn the reigns over to these 17-year-olds, because 17-year-olds don’t have any judgement and any experience. They should absolutely not be running the world, and neither should 25-year-olds. Merlin thinks that all these dug-in people from 2 generations ago are Karma-sucks to any good change. Look at Paul Ryan! He is hail and healthy, but he is the worst.

Until just the last 10 years ago, you never saw those people, because there was no Internet and they didn’t feel politically empowered! Now everybody has got an equal voice and politically, John is an oligarchist. He doesn’t think that those dumdums should have equal voice to somebody with a degree in political science. The idea we have in America where we are experimenting with Democracy for decades for 200 years and then you arrive at a place where ”This is what Democracy looks like, but take a closer look! Is that what you want?" Or do we need checks and balances, like we used to have? In a democracy where everybody is on the internet shouting that they think the Earth is flat, are we really talking about this?

There is a reason that people in their 40s and 50s are running things, because if you are 24 and somebody says ”College should be free!”, you have never thought about why that might be hard to implement. It is not impossible, but it is also not a thing that you elect a president about. You can be against banks, and John is against banks, but have you ever thought about what happens if you take banks away? You don’t just take the banks away, because banks do things. You might hate them and the worst of them are the worst, but banks do a job. John is against private property as much as the next progressive.

John has been on 4Chan, and it is so much worse than it was, even! If he would spend half the time he spends on 8Chan on 4Chan, he would be in good shape. And don’t even get him started on the dark web!

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